Penn State Football: Franklin Answering Meyer's Challenge, Already Setting Stage For Marquee Weekend
It wasn't too long ago Urban Meyer was calling out his fellow Big Ten coaches.
"We do need to as a conference, need to keep pushing that envelope to be better," said Meyer of Big Ten recruiting. "Our whole conversation [at the Big Ten coaches meeting] needs to be about 'how do we recruit?' When you see that 11 of the SEC teams are in the top 25, that's something that we need to improve."
And Meyer wasn't wrong. When he made those comments in 2013, Michigan was the only program within arms reach of the Buckeyes on the recruiting trail. The rest of the Big Ten was largely regulated to middle of the pack classes, with a sanctioned Penn State program still out-recruiting more than half the conference.
So Meyer's point was simple. If the conference is going to change its status in college football, recruiting has to improve. It has a direct impact on Meyer's team -- Ohio State can't win national titles with a resume filled with wins against struggling teams. Going undefeated against the Big Ten's usual suspects simply isn't going to yield the same number of high profile wins a run through the SEC would. And as a result, the Buckeyes are left out of the title race yet again, at least in a pre-playoff world.
Fast forward a year or so and James Franklin has brought with him all the bells and whistles you could ask for as he looks to continue to modernization of Penn State football. Franklin didn't come to Penn State because the 2014 season was going to be special. He came because of what the program could become down the road. He's the kid who builds a spaceship out of the Lego kit sold to make a castle. He has a long term vision, built on the remolding of all the short term goals and intricate details that make a football program run.
So with Penn State's recruiting class currently rated No.1 in the nation, Franklin has -- indirectly -- taken Meyer up on his challenge. The Big Ten hasn't seen many recruiters like Meyer or Franklin and now they have both of them to deal with. Franklin isn't looking to make Ohio State's resume stronger, he's looking for Ohio State to make Penn State's resume stronger.
This all sets up for what should be an entertaining Penn State/Ohio State weekend this coming fall. The recently announced 8 p.m. kick time in State College sets the stage for what is guaranteed to be the marquee recruiting weekend for Franklin and Co. Ohio State will almost certainly be favored, but the pomp and circumstance will still be a chance to sell recruits on everything the program has to offer.
Win or lose, it's hard to imagine Franklin coming out of the weekend with nothing to show for it, even if it's only selling recruits on the idea that there can be more than one big dog in the conference. For as much of a showman as Franklin seems to be, it's inconceivable that the biggest weekend of the year will be short on fanfare. A good showing on the field always helps, but recruits are playing on teams of the future, not the teams of the present. And that vision is what Franklin is selling.
If Penn State's current recruiting haul is the opening salvo in the arms race between the two programs it's safe to assume that it will not go unanswered. Ohio State is still the conference's marquee program even with a loss in the Big Ten Championship game. And as Michigan has proven over the past few years, good recruiting is only half of the equation when it comes to putting together a wining product. Winning doesn't simply mean you landed the best recruits. It's a complicated formula that very few programs have mastered. Penn State simply can't just flip a switch and become elite, no matter how many excited tweets are sent by fans and coaches.
Nevertheless, Franklin is preparing Penn State for a marathon race against the nation's best on and off the recruiting trail. The Nittany Lions have a long way to go to get to where they would like to be, but the itinerary for the journey is starting to take shape.
And if that means Franklin has to go through Meyer to do it, it's hard to imagine that either coach or program will flinch.
Penn State and Ohio State don't play for several months, but the cold war is already heating up and college football is better off because of it.